On Stage: Peter and “Billy”

January 31, 2012

Photo by Kyle Froman

Billy Elliot: The Musical comes to town this week, full of a lift-your-spirits warmth, perfect for the winter season. I had a chance to talk with choreographer Peter Darling, who really was during the course of our conversation. He gave a certain insight about the creative process involved with this award-winning production. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Photo by Kyle Froman








Dance Beat: Dutch, Crawl, Emily, Dance Dangereuse

January 25, 2012

Photo by Chris Nash

Going Dutch. There was gouda arancini, smoked mackerel potato salad, red cabbage with smoked sausage and apples and slavinken, all signature dishes of the Netherlands and meticulously prepared by Meat & Potatoes restaurant. Yum Well, if Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s upcoming Distinctly Dutch Festival is as tasty as the food, we’re all in for a treat that will take us through the spring. I have loved the Trust’s previous festivals (Montreal, Australia, International Festival of Firsts), which gave us the opportunity to explore different cultures without leaving home. Of course we already knew that that the Pittsburgh Dance Council will be presenting Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras, which will open the festival Feb. 18, and Last Touch First, co-choreographed by Michael Schumacher and Jiri Kylian (a national and international choreographic treasure). But there will be plenty more to sample. For theater buffs, there will be Detroit Dealers, which is oddly set against the American car industry, Diespace, an interactive multimedia performance set against the Internet, and Jean Cocteau’s La voix humaine, featuring one of Holland’s foremost actresses. Halina Reijn. Music lovers can catch The News, a video/opera, or Dutch Women of Jazz. Girls ‘N’ Guns and Global Navigators will enhance the Pittsburgh art scene and Dudes and World of Rhythm will be geared to families. Accompanying it all will be workshops, wine tastings, a tulip display (of course) at the Phipps, film and more, including menu offerings at local restaurants. Hungry?  Intrigued? (I am and will attend as many events as possible.) For more information, click on Distinctly Dutch.

Crawl-ing. The Trust also sponsors the Gallery Crawl four times a year, a great (and free) way to explore the Cultural District. This go ‘round on January 27 will feature Maddy Landi’s kNOTdance transferring your own drawing of a dream into a dance. Also interact with a digital installation, Summer Sky Eternal, and see how your personal movement affects it (604 Liberty Ave.). Or interact with a partner at Arthur Murray Dance Studio, with free lessons and demos (salsa at 7:30 p.m., tango at 8 p.m., swing at 8:30 p.m.) Much, much more, from Norwegian artist HC Gilje at Wood Street to a Cell Phone Disco. A real bonus — Chatham Baroque rocks the Trust Arts Education Center with three performances. From 5:30 – 9 p.m. Click on Gallery Crawl.

Emily Kitka. The Pittsburgh dancer, who joined the corps of New York City Ballet last fall, got her first real review in The New York Times. Congrats, Emily!

Risky Business. Top Dating Sites website has posted 10 Dances You Should Only Attempt if You Are a Pro. Really? How do you actually become one? See for yourself when you click on Dangerous Dance.

On Stage: A Pillow-y Performance

January 18, 2012

Photo: Cassie Kay Photography

I write a lot about “P’s,” but not so much “Q’s” when Pearlann Porter and The Pillow Project open up The Space Upstairs for Second Saturdays. The air is casual, where audience members can walk about and talk about, well, anything during the performances, perfect for those of us who can’t sit still for long. Just joking…I’d call this one a collaborative, inspirational effort between a virtual army of performers and the audience itself.  Read about it in the Post-Gazette.

Dance Beat: Gabe, Dennis

January 17, 2012

Lock It Up. Hip hop is coming alive in Pittsburgh. Gabriel “Kg” Ash just held a successful two-day workshop, Kg Dynasty Presents: Due Season, at the August Wilson Center, with over 60 participants. In other words, Due Season is the burgeoning professional wing of Gabe’s Kg Dynasty. It was the prelude to what he hopes is a big dance storm because Gabe and Due Season (Gabe plus LJ Duncan, Sean W. Green, Asia J,  Antwane Younger and Sharnell Younger) have big plans to conquer the New York City auditions January 21 for America’s Best Dance Crew, the hit series on MTV.

Board-ing. Choreographer Dennis Nahat comes to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as a man under fire. His board at Ballet San Jose has gradually been moving him out of the picture and officially fired him yesterday, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. The beleaguered director will be in town for the week of PBT’s Uncommon at the August Wilson Center, where the company will perform his Brahms Quintet, along with Mark Morris’ Maelstrom and Dwight Rhoden’s world premiere, Chromatic. This seems to be developing into a trend. Miami City Ballet board bungled the retirement of iconic artistic director and founder Edward Villella  last fall. And of course, we still are stinging from the bite the Dance Alloy Theater board put on artistic director Beth Corning, who had actually brought them onto the board, and the abrupt dismissal of all employees, including successor Greer Reed and the dancers, just last summer. Is dance, particularly ballet, going corporate?’

Dance Beat: PBT, Rockettes and River City Update

January 12, 2012

Photo by Rich Sofranko Taking a Break? Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is heading down to Hilton Head Island January 14 and 15 thanks to former board member Fred Beard and his wife, Dottie. But that doesn’t just mean two days of fun in the sun for 18 of the company members. Fred and Dottie are underwriting a pair of performances at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, with a program featuring Raymonda Variations, Sylvia Pas de Deux and Dwight Rhoden’s Step Touch and Ave Maria, That might mean a healthy glow for PBT’s upcoming Uncommon at the August Wilson Center in February.

Kickin’ It. Do you have big dance dreams? Well, they don’t get much bigger than Radio City Music Hall and the world-famous Rockettes. So if you hanker for precision and eye-high kicks, dance your way over to the Benedum Center on Sunday at 1 p.m. where they are holding auditions for the Rockettes Summer Intensive, scheduled for June 23-August 3 at the afore-mentioned Radio City in New York. “The Rockettes Summer Intensive is a pivotal program for serious dancers who want to gain the training and technique of the Rockettes precision dance style,” said Eileen Grand, Rockettes Director and Choreographer. “Our dance education programs are invaluable for dancers and one of the best training tools for these talented Rockette hopefuls who strive to become part of the legendary dance company. For more information and other cities, visit rockettes.com.

New York Update. It looks like River City Arts Management had a successful series of showcases at the APAP conference in the Big Apple, with groups like August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. Linda Reznik posted an SRO on her Facebook page.

Face-ing It. If you want to get notified of new articles posted on CrossCurrents, just friend me (Jane Vranish) on Facebook.

On Screen: Waiting for Pina

January 10, 2012

So we’re playing the waiting game for Pina, Wim Wenders’ extraordinary 3D documentary (by all accounts) inspired by the legendary German choreographer. AMC says it has no plans to bring it to Pittsburgh and Cinemax, which offers the Metropolitan Opera, isn’t answering. Hope the Academy Award nomination (Best Documentary) moves things along a bit. In the meantime, here is a trailer, full of  its own breathtaking moments, although the 3D version is supposed to be even moreso. As Pina puts it “Tanzt, Tanzt… sonst sind wir verloren” or “Dance, dance…otherwise we are lost.”

Dance Beat: January, AWCDE on 25, APAP/Focus, MAC

January 5, 2012

New Year, New Month. January 2012 dance is up and running. See Listings.

“Watch”-ing AWCDE. The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble has made an impact in Pittsburgh already, primarily through its unquenchable thirst for performing and some smart choreographic choices by artistic director Greer Reed. As a result, the company made my Top Ten list for 2011. Now the group’s scope is widening. Dance Magazine has placed AWCDE on its national list of 25 to Watch, certainly a terrific achievement for the fledgling group. Congrats!

Focus on Focus. The Association of Performing Arts Presenters takes over New York City’s performing arts spaces every January. The dance wing is called Focus Dance and comes in several tiers, with events at The Joyce Theater, Dance Gotham (New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Washington Square South) and Studio 4 (New York City Center) Jan. 6-8. There will be a strong Pittsburgh presence this year. Kyle Abraham will perform at The Joyce on a program with Kate Weare, in whose group Point Park grad Luke Murphy will dance. But River City Artists Management’s Linda Reznik will showcase a good portion of her complete dance roster at Studio Four, including the above-mentioned August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble (see Facebook) and Duquesne University Tamburitzans. (Others will include LehrerDance, Chicago Tap Theatre, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater and Dance Now! Miami.) And surprise(!), Braddock mayor John Fetterman will be a featured speaker at APAP. A Harvard Kennedy School graduate and leader of “Allegheny County’s poorest community,” he will talk about his rebuilding efforts, which have garnered national attention. Check out Pop City’s video on John, which is the opening segment on the APAP website.


Have a MAC. Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet (MAC) artistic director Gerard Holt, former member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will start up a new ballet class, geared to dancers 14 years or older who wanted to start ballet again or have a basic knowledge of the vocabulary. He promises “a fun and light approach,” with “ability-appropriate positions, exercises and combinations for the barre and center floor.” Gerard joins the dance faculty at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks. Click on schedule for more information.


On Stage: 2011 Dance MVP’s

January 4, 2012

Man of Steel. He may be the toast of New York and other places (Jacob’s Pillow and international performances), but Kyle Abraham hasn’t forgotten his roots. Those indelible Pittsburgh connections gave rise to his immensely successful The Radio Show, which he brought back in an extended, more sophisticated version in the spring. (Kyle also lost his father this summer, whose Alzheimer’s and aphasia provided some of the most poignant moments in The Radio Show.) And then he unveiled the Pinocchio-inspired, largely autobiographical Live! The Realest Emcee at his home-away-from-home, the Kelly Strayhorn, in the fall. An embarrassment of choreographic riches.

Photo by Rich Sofranko

Woman of Steel. She wasn’t on view as much as we would have liked this year. But when Erin Halloran announced her retirement just prior to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker due to serious hip problems, we realized how much she had given us over the years despite that. Now it will be almost like watching a variation of The Red Shoes as we continue to watch some of the ballets she danced in the future, with only a mental spotlight sufficing for the radiance and technical purity of this quintessential Pittsburgh ballerina.

Another Final Bow. Another sad and sudden exit as the Dance Alloy Theater board did not renew any administrative or company contracts in August, then failed to inform the community. The Kelly Strayhorn has picked up the ball that the Alloy board so unceremoniously dropped. While there won’t be a company as of yet, there is still a school…and a building. The Alloy certainly will take another form, probably a pick-up group, when it resurfaces. That will likely be in May, when hope generally springs eternal.

Yet Another Final Bow. But then, how DO you take a bow in bellydance? Gracefully, as Zafira did at the Kelly Strayhorn in October. Still, Olivia Kissel, Christine Andrews and Maria Hamer will be undulating their way along new paths, some of which will still carve a sinuous direction around Pittsburgh.

Best Ensemble. After 15 years, Attack Theatre is like a well-oiled machine. But that doesn’t mean that it’s getting creaky. Liz Chang, Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope, Simon Thomas-Train, Dane Toney and Ashley Williams are not only smooth and seamless, but they collectively bring it, my friends, to every performance. A joy to watch. 

Dance Party. I love it when dancers take charge, which was what happened at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Dancers Trust benefit. It’s always been a showcase by the dancers for company members to do something different and benefit their inevitable career transitions. This year, though, they had a genuine sense of showmanship, comedy and sheer fun — a ballet hat trick that is a rarity.

Discovery Channel. Staycee Pearl has struck the mother lode in her exploration  of award-winning writer Octavia Butler. Some call it sci-fi, but Staycee calls it Afrofuturism (or Magical Realism), which suits Staycee to a “T.” ( Look it up.) We met for a long-overdue conversation in the delightful Kazandra’s Cafe, conveniently located right next to the Kelly Strayhorn where Staycee is a resident artist.

Turnaround. I always say a good dancer should be able to hold an audience with his or her back. Zach Kapeluck took that idea to another dimension at Point Park University’s performing in September’s Student Choreography Project. As the opening lights shined down on him, they picked up a well-defined musculature that doubly impressed when he turned around. As I noted on CrossCurrents, he went from a budding classical dance poet the year before to something akin to a dancing Navy Seal. His artistic range should serve him well in the future.

Prix-ty Terrific. In 2011 Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School sent its first contestant to compete in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland…and its second. They were the lovely Anwen David and Aviana Adams, who represented the city with grace and aplomb.

Late Bloomer. Gia Cacalano has been improvising for years in Pittsburgh, but she was a cult figure and well-kept secret that flew under the radar. So it seems as if she has just truly burst onto the scene, with cutting edge performances at the Space Upstairs, SPACE and the Wood Street Galleries. That means both music and dance unfold in the moment in these juicy, shifting collaborations.

Fresh Bouquet. For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh dance is expanding. Pittsburgh fave Alan Obuzor debuted Texture Contemporary Ballet, while EVOLVE Productions, well, evolved by adding Continuum Dance Theater. Phinehas Hodges has a New Hazlett Theater series, “Speaking of…,” that relies heavily on young poets, of course, and dance companies and, speaking of young, Jaime Murphy and Renee Smith started the Murphy/Smith Dance Collective. Dance on!

At the Movies. I know this is technically a production company, but Emerging Pictures has expanded its coverage of international ballet and that means seeing some of the world’s greatest dancers, like Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. Okay, maybe they’re on film, but they still pack a great artistic wallop. Catch upcoming events at The Oaks in Oakmont, but also Carmike theaters in Bethel Park, Altoona and Greensburg. I mean, really, when will the Bolshoi ever bourree into our immediate vicinity? Even the New York City Ballet, which is a heckuva lot closer, leaped into the pool with a simulcast (and an all-star cast) of its “Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center. Yes, digital is the way to go. Besides, it saves on touring costs.

Dance Beat: KST/Alloy, Pillow, NYCB, Maribeth and Aimee

January 3, 2012

It’s time to catch up on a few things that popped up over the holidays –

KST Alloy. It’s official. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General approved the merger between the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and Dance Alloy Theater in mid-December. KST executive director Janera Solomon and staff are “pleased to have pass this final step in completing the merger with Dance Alloy Theater (DAT). Since the Kelly Strayhorn assumed responsibility for DAT operations, we have been able to support contemporary dance performers and choreographers in Pittsburgh with additional Master Classes, residencies for choreographers that enable them to develop and showcase their new works and we continue to offer popular community classes for students of all ages.” KST will continue to strengthen its commitments to the Pittsburgh dance community, a real plus. As for the three decade-old Alloy company itself, I’m sure its resurrection will be a continuing story throughout 2012.

The Pillow. Not our local Pillow Project, but the national historic landmark, Jacob’s Pillow, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary. What’s not to celebrate? History-making contributions to dance. Opportunities to discover new things about dance. Companies from nine countries and continents (The Joffrey Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Morphoses, Vertigo Dance Company). Once-in-a-lifetime engagements (week-long homage to founder Ted Shawn with an all-star, all-male cast). “Back by Popular Demand” (Tero Saarinen’s “Borrowed Light,” seen here at the Dance Council, Crystal Pite (seen at PDC, but not her “Dark Matters”) Doug Elkins (not seen in a long time at PDC, but a hit at the Pillow with “Fräulein Maria,” yes, his own take on “Sound of Music”). For more information, click on Jacob’s Pillow.

New York City Ballet “Nutcracker”

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut. New York City Ballet joined the simulcast dance wave. The Metropolitan Opera started it all with its popular film series, beamed into select movie theaters. International opera houses followed. The first to pick up the ball in dance were international ballet companies – Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, as well as other European companies. Apparently NYCB had the facilities and equipment in place to do the same. It finally worked out all the kinks and shared its opening night cast of George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker.” (I hear Pittsburgh Youth Ballet dismissed its dancers early from rehearsal to catch it.) More, please. Click on Carmike Cinemas, The Oaks and Ballet in Cinema, although — warning! —  the websites can be a little confusing.

On a Personal Note. Adding to the Pittsburgh dance community’s growing family, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s director of marketing and communications, Aimee DiAndrea, recently promoted, had to miss some “Nutcracker” performances because of her previously scheduled marriage and honeymoon. And former Alloy dancer Maribeth Maxa is looking radiant after her autumn marriage to Randy Fukas and making future plans. (Think costume design for one.)

On Stage: Attack-ing Pitt

January 2, 2012

It’s a phenomenon alright. More and more companies are encouraging their dancers to participate in the creative act of choreography. The Kelly-Strayhorn promotes independent choreographers from Pittsburgh’s dancerly ranks. Just this fall Point Park University presented student choreography and Bodiography its annual Multiplicity program at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. At Bodiography the dancers thought long and hard about their conceptual direction (a good thing), plus artistic director Maria Caruso performed a solo and long-time member Lauren Suflita Skrabalak (it was so good to see her again!) unveiled a new interest in choreography.

But Attack Theatre has come up with a new wrinkle. The company has joined forces  (via a grant) with the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate program in music composition. The organizations presented an informal concert at the Pittsburgh Opera space in the Strip District that had a surprisingly finished look about it.

For the record, there were seven composers, many of them playing in the evening’s live accompaniment, another plus. For the record, they were Matt Aelmore, Aaron Brooks, Chris Capizzi, Bomi Jang, Jonghee Kang, Charles Lwanga and Sookyung Sui. Those composers were paired (not necessarily in this order) with choreographers Jeff Davis, Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope (twice), Michael Walsh, Ashley Williams and the dynamic duo Renee Smith and Jamie Murphy.

The variety was terrific, from de la Reza’s delicious partnering in “Playback” (Brooks) to the gentle jazz of “Scenes,” where Williams captured a rainy afternoon (Capizzi). Davis had a whimsical touch in “Gifts From the Sea” (Kang) and Kope and Aelmore combined for a nonsensical solo for Toney, probably the audience favorite.

Shades of Merce Cunningham, Attack took some existing phrases and repurposed them  to the new music to lighten the load on the dancers (a good thing because Toney was in four of the seven works and the Attack dancers had just completed Holiday Unwrapped and PO’S Pearl Fishers). Hope it becomes an annual event, and, signaled by the inclusion of choreographers Murphy, Smith and Walsh and dancers Kaitlin Dann, Shana Simmons and Jessica Marino, grows to include more from the dance community.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 134 other followers